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Thursday, December 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 33.0° F  Overcast
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Jesse Jackson invokes Martin Luther King Jr. in a blockbuster speech to Wisconsin protesters
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Jackson: 'I'd like to congratulate you for having the staying power to hang on.'
Jackson: 'I'd like to congratulate you for having the staying power to hang on.'
Credit:Dean Robbins

On Friday afternoon, Jesse Jackson returned to Madison for the third time in two weeks to hurl thunderbolts at Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting budget bill. Jackson gave a hastily arranged speech to city employees on the steps of the City County Building, invoking Martin Luther King Jr.'s crusade for Memphis workers just before his 1968 assassination.

"His last act on Earth was marching for workers' rights," said Jackson, who accompanied King during his final march in Memphis.

If Wisconsin workers were looking for moral authority to bolster their fight against Walker and the Republican legislators, they couldn't have done much better than this.

Jackson was in town to meet with Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who introduced him to the throng of people spilling out onto Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (What better street for this speech?) Wearing a trench coat and a determined expression, Jackson spoke forcefully for about 20 minutes, without notes, in his patented preacher's cadences. He engaged the crowd in call-and-response, hoping to keep them motivated in this weeks-long battle with no end in sight.

"I'd like to congratulate you for having the staying power to hang on," he said.

Jackson has clearly been keeping up on breaking news from the Capitol, judging from his intimate knowledge of the issues. He referenced the governor's cuts to education and public transportation, his voter ID bill, and his proposal for selling off the state's public utilities in no-bid contracts.

Most powerfully, he noted this week's anniversary of Dr. King's civil-rights march in Selma, Alabama, when another governor George Wallace -- stood in opposition.

"This is the weekend we marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the right to vote in 1965!" he said.

And then, devastatingly:

"We've gone from Wallace to Walker!"

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